In the sport of mountain climbing, reaching the summit is always the endgame.
All of the blood, sweat and careful planning needed to reach this tiny patch of real estate is certainly worth it once you get there.
Jeep aims to replicate this feeling with the 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee model lineup. Like the fore-mentioned rock formation, the Summit represents the pinnacle of Jeep luxury and capability. But can it still stand out against a crowded field of luxury SUV contenders aiming to take advantage of low fuel prices and increased demand from a new generation of customers?
The exterior styling of our Granite Crystal Metallic tester still did a good job blending the subtle touches of elegance and rugged capability that has helped define the Grand Cherokee since its initial debut in the early 1990's. The bulk of the design still retains the cues that made their debut back in 2014, but Summit models receive front fascia tweaks, and come equipped with LED lighting elements as well as a slightly revised lower front bumper.
Unlike other Summits, our tester was a Summit California Edition, and while it did little to bring warm weather to our cold Metro Detroit outpost during its stay with us, The special trim does bring some unique touches that help separate it from base Summit models.
This includes slick 20-inch Satin Carbon aluminium wheels, a gloss black grille, as well as body-color accents for the front and rear fascias, and side skirts. The end result is a look that is more upscale than other Grand Cherokee models, but while it has a leg up on the Nissan Armada in aesthetics, it still falls slightly behind rivals including the Kia Sorento and the redesigned Ford Edge.
Jeep designers have made great strides in interior quality over the past several years, and the Summit represents the pinnacle of these efforts. Nearly every surface of the posh cabin has been adorned with rich Laguna leather surfaces, while the door panel inserts and seat bolstering receive quilted accents for even more flair. The bulk of the interior is largely carried over from 2016 with the redesigned gear shift lever the only notable change for 2017. However, the familiarity here is good, and it translates into solid ergonomics, as well as a logical layout for various buttons and switches.
The big 8.4 inch Uconnect system once again offers high levels of usability and functionality, and the crisp display really pops during night time driving. Meanwhile, the large TFT display in the center of the gauge cluster offers readouts for speed, vehicle information, and various settings while also offering vivid levels of detail and clarity. The leather and wood steering wheel also felt good in the hands, and housed controls for the cellphone, driver information screen, as well as the adaptive cruise control. Other Summit exclusive features include lighted door sills, Berber carpet, model exclusive suede headliner, as well as a potent 19-speaker Harmon Kardon sound system with three sub-woofers.
However, amid all of this five-star luxury, a few annoying quirks also emerged during our time in its meticulously crafted cabin. For example while the seats are comfy on long jaunts and offer great amounts of leg room, they are also a bit too firm with the upper backrest being the most notable culprit. In addition, there were instances where we had the heated seats and wheel turn off too early, which required backtracking through the Uconnect system to get them going again.
Performance for our tester came from the familiar 3.6 liter Pentastar V6 which is good for a healthy 295 horsepower, and comes with standard Start/Stop technology. The V6 is a relatively smooth unit in most driving situations, but its biggest weakness really shows out on the freeway. Unlike other V6 engines which offer a good amount of low end torque, the Pentastar forces drivers to wind the engine up into the upper reaches of the rev band to get the most out of it. Look for this trait to eat into its modest fuel economy numbers, as well as make itself known when hauling heavy loads
Thankfully for buyers that want more power, a 360 horsepower 5.7 liter Hemi V8 is also available along with the fuel sipping 3.0 liter EcoDiesel V6. All three engines are mated to the familiar eight speed automatic transmission which delivers smooth shifts, and also includes a built in Sport Mode. Drivers looking to have full control of the festivities can shift the gears themselves through either the formal shifter unit, or on the steering wheel mounted paddles.
Speaking of this feature, our advice is to stick with the paddles versus using the shifter itself to avoid the confusion caused by its odd upshift/downshift logic. A persistent and long standing trait of FCA's Auto Stick system for years, the setup looks like it was designed in an inter-dimensional mirror world, and upshifts when the unit is pulled down, and downshifts when it is moved upwards. We hope that FCA engineers will eventually close the wormhole to this odd pocket of the universe with the next iteration of Auto Stick, and embrace the traditional "up is up" and "down is down" formula like the rest of their rivals.
Handling in our tester was composed and secure with the steering doing a good job conveying a strong sense of control and poise especially when it is under the influence of sport mode. Our tester did a good job absorbing bumps, but there were occasions where the ride was a bit too choppy especially on gravel roads. Like other full-size SUVs, the Grand Cherokee's steering is a bit too over-boosted, which blunts road feel, but that translates into impressive low speed abilities, especially in parking.
These abilities are highlighted further with the Summit's party trick, the ability to park itself. This is thanks to the all new ParkSense system which gave our tester semi-autonomous parking capability. To find out how this system fared in the real world, we traveled to the Village of Rochester Hills outlet mall which is also a common gathering place for SUVs. The system utilizes special sensors to help find a parking space, and then takes full control of the steering wheel to help steer the Grand Cherokee perfectly into a parking space. The driver still has to manage the throttle, brakes, and formal shifting duties, but it is an easy system to master, and can even manage parallel parking as well. The lone caveat is that it can only find spaces with vehicles on either side, so empty spaces and spots with only one side filled are out of play.
Pricing for the 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee starts at $30,395 for the base Laredo model with the more luxury lined Limited and Overland models starting at $37,995 and $44,795 respectively. Our Summit grade Grand Cherokee 4x4 had a base price of $53,395 (4x2 versions start at $50,495.) Optional extras including the $995 Summit California Edition package, the $4,995 Signature Leather Wrapped interior package, and the $295 Skid Plate Group helped balloon the final price to a lofty $60,675 which includes the $995 destination fee. This puts the Summit in heated competition with the Ford Explorer Platinum, the Acura MDX, as well as the BMW X5. It also puts it in the crosshairs of the Range Rover Sport for the moment, but look for the revived Grand Wagoneer to be a more focused assault on the British SUV maker when it eventually returns to dealer lots.
Meanwhile, lower tier Grand Cherokees do battle with the Nissan Murano, Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot, and the Toyota 4-Runner in their quest to appeal to mainstream SUV and CUV buyers. With all of this flexibility both in terms of pricing and equipment, look for the 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee to continue to be a compelling entry in the full-size SUV segment, and we look forward to perhaps sampling the fire-breathing SRT version soon.